Living with Grey Squirrels – What’s the deal?
History: Grey squirrels are native to North America but were introduced to the UK in the late 1800’s. Since then they have spread throughout the country to the demise of the native red squirrel.
Grey squirrels are so detrimental to the red squirrels’ survival because they can out-compete for food and they are carriers of the squirrel pox, (to which they remain unaffected but if transmitted to a red squirrel it results in a painful death for the red squirrel).
Grey squirrels can also inflict devastating damage to the UK’s trees by ring-barking, (the tree dies), or by stripping bark, (leaving the tree prone to disease). It is also thought that they are playing a part in the decline of native bird species e.g. by egg stealing and the taking of nestlings.
Under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) it is illegal, except under licence, to release grey squirrels once caught.
What can (should) you do if you are brought a grey squirrel by a member of the public?
Sciurus Carolinensis Facts:
- Colour: Various – grey, brindle, varying amounts of red in the coat and there are some genetic mutations of nearly all-white and all-black.
- Distinguishing features: No ear tufts; the hair on the tail is all around tipped with white, (not on the all-black phenotype).
- Adult weight: around 400 -700 grams.
- Breeding: females can reproduce from around 15 months old.
- Generally, producing a twice-yearly litter of 3-4 young, (kits). In favourable conditions can produce 3 litters in a year.
- Gestational period: 44 days.
- Life expectancy: around 8 years.
- Habitat and food: active all year round and do not hibernate. The nest is called a ‘drey’ which is usually located in the fork of a branch, around 2/3rds of the way up the tree.
- In a nut shell: They live in mixed broad-leaf woodlands, rural/suburban/urban parklands and farmland which have a wide and abundant food source. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat seeds, fruits, bird eggs and fledglings, fungi, buds and tree-bark. Will live in conifer forests if nothing else is available and exist on pine-cones, although this is not an ideal food source for winter survival.
NOW FOR THE CRUNCH – CONTAINMENT AND CARE
Squirrels will bite! Handle with care.
Cover the squirrel with a thick towel and gently manipulate it into an up-turned sturdy plastic or metal container. [Never use a cardboard container as they will chew through it and escape]. Close the container (with air holes).
Leave the towel in the container for the squirrel to nestle/burrow/cling to.
Depending on the condition of the patient; some may need to be euthanised immediately on welfare grounds and some can be given emergency treatment before transport to a licenced rescue centre. For example, it may be necessary to warm and rehydrate them or give a baby squirrel (kit) a feed. Do not offer peanuts as they are poisonous for a squirrel.
Kits need to be fed two-hourly. Warmed goats milk is a good substitute (never cows milk).
If you are not going to euthanise the squirrel, consider that you are dealing with an animal that is a non-native species under the law and therefore you should think about the strict restrictions this places on what you can do with it… Can you fulfil the legal requirements?
…and the legal issue…
Remember that whatever your feelings about it, this patient cannot be released back into the wild unless it is done under licence; this means YOU cannot do it and neither can anyone else that isn’t officially licenced. [If considering taking the squirrel to a rescue centre you should check with them that they are licenced].
If this legal criterion cannot be met, very sadly the squirrel must be PTS; that is, unless it will be kept in captivity for the rest of its life. [Please think deeply about the pro’s and con’s of this latter option regarding the mental & physical welfare of a wild creature].
I can’t leave you with a feeling of sadness (I certainly feel a bit that way) so here’s a red squirrel to cheer you up, sporting some magnificent ear tufts and the bushiest of tails!